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What’s For Dinner? Meal Planning 101

What’s for dinner? That is the question that plagues my nightmares!  Too many times I find myself asking this question at 5pm! Not the time to be doing so! By that time everyone is tired and hungry and no one wants to answer that question. It usually ends up being answered with a trip through the local fast food drive-thru. When you have dietary restrictions like we do with gluten, that’s not much of an option anyway!

Since dinner is going to come around everyday whether we want to face the fact or not, why not make it easier on ourselves? The answer? A simple menu plan.

I’m not talking some elaborate plan with a brand new recipe to try every night of the week! Just a little organization in place of the usual meal chaos.

Menu planning doesn’t have be complicated! It requires a small investment of time, but the rewards are well worth it!

Meal planning helps you to eat healthier and saves you time, money and your precious sanity!

I’m sold!  How about you and I explore together how to start meal planning. I have combed the www for the best ideas I could find and present them for your consideration….and hopefully your input as well!

menu planning

KEEP A MEAL JOURNAL

Since I just did a post about journals yesterday, this one really resonated with me! It makes perfect sense. Keep a simple journal of the meals you cook throughout the year, then take a look back for inspiration. It’s a great way to remember things you used to cook and to see what you were eating the same time a year ago.

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USE TECHNOLOGY

I saw many ideas in my research from people who use online websites or apps to both plan and shop for their meals. Here are just a few I came across:

Food Planner – Keep an integrated meal plan, grocery list, and recipe collection that can sync between multiple phones, tablets, and the web. Allows you to plan your daily meals using a selection of recipes downloaded from all of your favorite cooking blogs and recipe sites.

Plan To Eat – Easily drag recipes from your recipe book to create your personalized meal plan, and then add additional ingredients, events and notes.

Springpad – Simple notebooks that help you save, organize, and act on the many different projects and tasks you have going on in your life.

SayMmm – The service offers free tools for planning meals, organizing recipes, and shopping for groceries.

Use a shared Google Calendar just for meal-planning.

I love Pinterest for menu planning because it’s like a bulletin board of all my favorite recipes that I can see at a glance. I scroll through my food board and see what looks good for the week ahead. Pinterest is great at presenting great SEASONAL food ideas as well.

menu planning

PLAN AROUND SALES

Look at grocery circulars (either from the newspaper or online) to see what’s on sale for the week and plan meals around that.

Check out this post from earlier this year for more on that: 4 Simple Steps To Cutting Your Food Budget In Half

menu planning

ROTATE FAVORITES

Ask everyone in your family for a list of their favorite meals. From that make a master list of 10 to 20 meals and rotate them. Just add a salad or a seasonal vegetable on the side and you’re done.

menu planning

TRY THEME NIGHTS

Assign a theme to dinner one night each week: tacos, breakfast for dinner, stir-fry, pasta, etc. Choose something the whole family likes and doesn’t take long to make. Write out 5 variations on the theme (if you choose a pasta theme, your list might look like: fettucini alfredo, spaghetti, lasagna, baked ziti, or macaroni and cheese) and rotate through them, adding more variations if you want. Like it? Add a second themed dinner night each week.

menu planning

BE STRATEGIC

Having meals that won’t provide leftovers (like homemade pizza) are better for Fridays, because leftovers are easily forgotten over the weekend. Meals relying on fresh foods (seafood, things without a long shelf life) are best done earlier in the week so you don’t have to go to the store twice during the week. Crockpot meals are good for the middle of the week when things are hectic with work and school and you don’t have a lot of time to cook. Sundays and Mondays prep a few things for later in the week, to make it easier on yourself.

menu planning

LOOK FOR TWO-MEALS-IN-ONE OPPORTUNITIES

Use the leftovers from one meal in the next meal (roast chicken today is chicken tacos, salad or soup tomorrow), or double the recipe and freeze half for another dinner on a day when you don’t have time to cook. The more home-cooked, prepared food that you have stored in your freezer, the less stress you feel when planning your menu, and the less tempted you are to eat out. Make a little extra of everything, and if you don’t want it right away, freeze it.

menu planning

USE WHAT YOU HAVE

Before you make your weekly shopping trip, check what needs to be used in the fridge, pantry and freezer, then choose recipes to make over the next week that include those items.

menu planning

KEEP STAPLES ON HAND

Meals are easier and quicker to prepare if you keep your pantry well-stocked. Don’t run out of olive oil at inconvenient moments.  Here are a few common staple items: canned tomatoes, eggs, dijon mustard, pasta, individually frozen chicken breasts, soy sauce, onions, canned beans, parmesan cheese, kosher salt, olive oil, canned broth, carrots, broccoli & cauliflower.

menu planning

CHECK THE WEATHER

I never really thought about this, but our choices of meals are definitely affected by the weather. Look at the weather forecast. Is it going to be chilly soup weather or so hot you’re going to want to grill burgers outside?

menu planning

WRITE IT DOWN

As helpful as technology is to plan your menu and shopping for groceries, ultimately your plan should be VISIBLE so you stick to it
Download a free meal planner sheet, get a small white erase board or chalkboard for your refrigerator. If you don’t write it down you will probably forget what you had planned to make. It will also serve as a reminder to your family so you can avoid the “What’s for Dinner?!” question. (Oh how I dread that question!!)

menu planning

Last but not least…………

YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE A GREAT COOK TO BE A MEAL PLANNER

There are lots of great resources available to give you ideas of how to create simple and tasty meals. USE THEM, your family will never know!

Are you a menu planner? Share YOUR tips!

Jill Nystul Photo

Jill Nystul (aka Jillee)

Jill Nystul is an accomplished writer and author who founded the blog One Good Thing by Jillee in 2011. With over 30 years of experience in homemaking, she has become a trusted resource for contemporary homemakers by offering practical solutions to everyday household challenges.
I share creative homemaking and lifestyle solutions that make your life easier and more enjoyable!

About Jillee

Jill Nystul

Jill’s 30 years of homemaking experience, make her the trusted source for practical household solutions.

About Jillee

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Bright Ideas

  • I have a binder where I keep a list of “Staples” that I make all the time. I also keep my grocery list and my menu for the week there. Before making my list, I figure out how many cheap and fast meals I need for crazy schedule days, and how many regular meals. Then I plan my menu accordingly. I think I’m also going to start a running list of products we didn’t like, so I won’t accidentally buy them again! Also, Sunday is my Pinterest Baking Day! I pick out a recipe… Or 3 to try, so the kids have homemade treats for their lunches.

  • Thanks for the mention in your article! Great information.

    Our app can handle many of these features now including importing recipes from Pinterest and many other websites and blogs. You can also sync with Google Calendar!

    We are just about to launch IOS and our upgraded web app! This will allow users on both android and IOS to seamlessly share plans, grocery lists, inventory and more!!!!

    Thanks again.

  • […] O que tem pro jantar? Cozinhar é fácil, o duro é planejar o quê sem desperdício de alimentos e stress nas filas do […]

  • I have an awesome recipe keeper idea.
    I use the Evernote App on my iPhone and iPad to save recipes. I used to clip recipes and never look at them, and have stacks of printed off ones.

    This way, you can snap a picture of a recipe in a magazine or where ever. You can make files like desserts, poultry or whatever. There is even a Web Clipper that you can use on your computer to grab a recipe from a website, FB or Pinterest. All the devises are linked so I have the recipe in the store on my Smartphone when I need it, no matter what device I saved it on.

    This has been a huge help in getting me organized and cleaning out the clutter.

  • I’m not the greatest cook but I love to eat and I love to go out to eat….BUT, in order to go out, a little budgeting is in order so, meal planning is a must. My favorite thing to do is try a new recipe that is either the beginning or the end of my “Meal trilogy” – start with one meal and use the leftovers for completely different meals….(simple one – roast chicken to chicken enchilada to chicken soup) nothing goes to waste and you get a big bang for your buck.

    (Let me just say, I started doing this when I went back and added up what we spent each month on going out and was SHOCKED!!! We like nice restaurants and got a little carried away!!! So…meal planning and a couple of nice date nights a month and we are under control. Thank you Pinterest for some great ideas for budgeting and meal planning…. just read your Why you love Pinterest blog!!)

  • You know, many people seem to have that meal chaos. Thanks a lot for all your tips. Most of all I loved one with home-cooked food in a freezer. I’ll do that. I used to freeze only meat, fruits and berries and you gave me very good hint as for other food. In spite of all the technologies people still read books. Why wouldn’t you try and write a book with all your meal planning with some good recipes? I’d be your first reader ;)

  • Hi, I just started reading your blog after seeing some great recipes (thanks!) posted by a friend on facebook. This post on menu planning came at just the right time for me. I haven’t had to plan menus for my family EVER that I remember. Now that I “retired” from working retail full time to watch my grandson, I find that my food budget is drastically cut.
    Because I’m not getting paid, my husband is taking care of all our bills, and I need to menu plan to keep the money he’s allotted for our food budget to be really cost effective. I used to sort-of plan, but when I was working, it was always later shifts, so for 7 years I was only home for dinner two days out of the week. It became a get your own dinner kind of thing. I usually ate a carton of yogurt for dinner at work! So, I started thinking back to favorites, now that I’m cooking dinners again, but I was still stuck! Guess my confidence is a little rusty!
    I still get a what’s for dinner with my 2 grown sons occasionally, though they usually come home from work/school with a fast food bag in hand! I am trying to get my husband to eat more vegs and fruit…a challenge, but he has to drop some weight, so he’s at least up for it! here goes, thanks for the ideas, wish me luck!

  • I keep a little journal marked Chicken, Fish, Pasta, Pork, Soup, Beef, etc. Then when I am stuck, I look up what our favorite recipes in that category are. Sometimes it is easy to forget a recipe you all like.
    Also, I try to have a fish night, pork night, easy night, soup night, beef night, etc. It makes plannin easier, I just figure out what recipe I want to make that uses that food. I try new recipes and rely on favorites, depending on how much free time I have.

  • I’m actually on my third week planning meals. I started to try to control my grocery budget a little more, and come up with new meal ideas. I tend to get in a rut and make the same 7 meals in different combinations and break it up with going out to eat. So to save money, I’m trying to plan them. I sit down on Sunday and I look for 1 or 2 new meals or side dishes to try. Then I write down 7 general meal plans (main dish and one side) and then I can add more sides and the meals evolve on the day. For example last week I ended up switching the main proteins within dishes because we just wanted chicken instead of beef! But I needed to use the veggies before they went bad, so I just rolled with it. Its been really good so far, and I just write my grocery list while I’m making the meal list, and I find I’m forgetting less at the store, and impulse shopping less as well.

    This week my new dish is a ham and bean soup. I’ve not had a lot of success with soups, my husband likes them really hearty, and I have trouble getting the seasonings right. I either add too many flavors, or too few! I have a ham bone I got out of the freezer, and I need to soak my dried beans… Hopefully it will be my first soup success!

  • I know that meal planning is something most people either avoid or embrace, but I am just not one who loves to do it although I know it saves me money. One way I have gotten the best of both worlds is by using the meal plans from emeals.com. I love that I can pick from a large variety of plans and each week it comes to my inbox-menu, recipes,grocery list all in one easy step. I print it out, cross out any meal that I don’t think we would like, use the ingredients to make something else, or just tweak it to fit our tastes. So easy and still saves me money.

  • I meal plan, although the meals may change, ie swap mon for wed meals. I use post it notes in different colours. Yellow for white meat, pink for red meat, orange for seafood, and green for everything else, including going out, leftovers, pizza etc. i sometimes think i need another colour, but it came in a pack of 4 ;).

    My Meal planning consists of opening my ring binder, where I have the meals stored ( one colour to a page) choose a meal, pick up the sticky note, stick it on the form I have, then choose the next meal. I try to have a good colour variety, then I slip it in the clear pocket at the front of my binder, and it sits in my recipe holder on the kitchen bench.
    I love the idea of tracking the history of meals.

  • I always have a few meal stretchers in my fridge or pantry. Items like cottage cheese, applesauce in a jar, cheese slices/cubes, bread and butter, and raw veggies can be put on the table without preparation to round out the meal and satisfy the big eaters in the family.

  • My goodness — I think you spied on me and wrote “those” things in MY journal!

    I have a problem — I am not getting your e-mails any more and I MISS you! Would love to be back in touch. Don’t know if it is my computer or ?????

  • Meal planning has never been a source of stress for me. I also rarely get (or have gotten) the question What’s for dinner? A few times they asked and my reply, “Food”. Just why are they asking anyway? Hedging their bets for eating at a friends house??
    I think the best strategy you will ever find is what so many have already mentioned. Make extra of at least one item from the meal. Cook extra meat & save for another night–make extra rice & freeze, extra potatoes for potato pancakes–that sort of thing. Be careful with this–I always squirrel the extra a way before the meal in order to avoid it all in being eaten in one meal.
    Then of course there is Jillee’s past post for Dump Chicken which can be expanded to Dump Beef etc. Jillee refers you to a site that expands the concept even more. These are no brainer meals that you add bread, rice, pasta or potato to with a salad or steamed vegetable & call it done. It also brings a huge variety to the table because as in her post you can grill, stir fry, bake, steam & shred these for endless meal options.
    For me stocking what we eat is key. I loosely plan. When I go food shopping I peruse the sale paper first to know the loss leaders. As I shop, if we eat it I buy it, if it is on sale I buy more, if it is a really good sale I buy all my budget can afford. These get put in the pantry & then I have whatever I need on hand and “shop” from the pantry.
    I am also anti crock pots–to me all the food has the same taste & texture. Besides I am afraid of leaving it on all day while I am gone. You’d never leave an iron on (even on low) unattended. You can do any crock pot meal in a Dutch oven in 35-45 minutes; flavors blend but individual foods keep their integrity. You can prep the pot whenever you have time & keep in the refrigerator until ready to cook. You can make your salad, set your table, go through the mail & check homework while it cooks. Save your crock pot for Chili and buffet style entertaining.

  • My sister has great monthly meal planners that give you a weekly meal plan for a month and includes a grocery list/WW points/recipes/tips for a small fee. Her website is: themealplanners.com if anyone is interested. I love the fact that she includes snacks/desserts/crockpot meals/freezer and make ahead meals also. I believe we all can use meal planning 101 in our lives. Thanks Jillee :)

  • I forgot to mention that a food bag vacuum system was initially expensive, I can now buy meats on sale and freeze them. No freezer burn! And you can label the bags as to the contents.

    • I love my Foodsaver. It was definitely worth the investmant. I even freeze cheese that we buy in bulk at Costco and meats that come in large quantities from our butcher.

  • Another WONDERFUL website is http://www.myrecipes.com. It is a database of all recipes from Southern Living, Cooking Light and related magazines. You can search by nutrition or ingredients and save everything to your own “Saved “Recipes and “saved” menus. I also keep a sticky note on the refrigerator listing the perishable produce. As I use the green produce bags, I tend to loose or forget items. The sticky note keeps the items at the front of my planning so I no longer waste food.

  • Hi Jillee,
    A while back you posted something you called “dump chicken” or maybe it was just “dump meals”, where you made several different marinades from pretty basic ingredients, poured over a meat and froze until needed. Since I absolutely do NOT like to cook and have no imagination when it comes to cooking, these meals were a doable plan for me . Added bonus is that the hubs and I really liked the finished product!!. I printed out the directions and have made several batches. I have tried them w/chicken breasts and pork chops. Got any more suggestions for simple, self marinating , freeze ahead entrees? BTW, have you tried that 90 second microwave packaged rice? It is delicious and perfect for a procrastinator cook like me. :)
    A fan in Monterey…JH

  • My friend and I get together once a month and plan 15 meals..5 fish, 5 chicken, and 5 “whatever.” Most of them are easy assembly meals. Some need to be cooked. The ones that need to be cooked we divide among ourselves to cook enough for both families when we have time, divide up the other tasks, meet up for 3-4 hours at one of our kitchens, put all the meals together in freezer bags, and we’ve got meals for the next month for both of our families without having to take an entire day to do it ourselves. We use the internet and pinterest to get it organized. Team meal planning has been such a blessing for us! Helps us feed our families homemade meals most nights even when we don’t have time to cook.

  • I have been meal planning for about 4 years. I am very basic. I have a list of all the meals I make and I add new ones that I have tried and liked. I then use that list / check my freezer, fridge, pantry / check out the sales flyer for my store and make a meal plan list. My meal plan list is usually on the back of an envelope and I use it to make my shopping list. I try to go to the store about once every 2 weeks to do a big shop and then once in between for milk etc… It works great for our family of 3!

  • I am a monthly meal planner. I plan for an entire month, shop in one day, prep the next day, put it in seal-a-meal bags and throw it in the freezer. I pull it out the night before to thaw and either throw it in the crockpot or do whatever the instructions tell me to do. I have my meal plan posted to the fridge so Everyone knows what’s for dinner! I have all the “recipes” I might need in a specific folder on pinterest (labeled Dinner this Month). When the month is over, I move everything back to original folder and start moving the next month of meals into the folder. I try 1 new recipe each week (so there’s not too many “flop” meals) and we find keepers that get tacked on to the following month.

    My TIP for beginners, the easiest way to do meal planning is to ask your family for their favorites. I get about 7-14 meals that everyone likes and when I go to the store, I buy enough to make each meal twice. When you’re doing your meal prep, you split the ingredients into 2 freezer bags (or seal-a-meal bags), and voila, you have already made 2 meals for your freezer. This turns into 2 weeks or a whole month of meals very easily (depending on how many meals you plan for). It makes it so easy.

  • Another website for planning is ZipList – I love using it for shopping on my phone, but have just recently started using for meal planning. The recipe gathering works a bit like Pinterest, but then it will generate shopping lists. It also syncs with your existing calendar (Google, iCal, etc) so your meal plan shows up there. You can also share lists, so my husband can put items on my list from his phone, which is HUGE for us. I’m not associated with ZipList, btw, just a very happy user.

  • On the weekend I have my 3 oldest each pick one meal for the week, they get to help make “their meal” with me. We always have a fend for yourself night to use leftovers and give me a night of cooking off. We also try one new meal each week, or a different variation of a favorite. We use the crockpot a lot too!

  • You have such great posts and I really enjoy reading them, but…….I am really tired of the flashing ads! They are an annoyance. Are they really necessary? Anyone else complain? Thanks for letting me vent and keep up the good work!

  • This gives me some “food” for thought. I am an empty nester and single. Cooking for one is not fun. But maybe I need to look at it as a challenge and see what I can do with better planning (I do love to plan) and freezing etc. Thanks for the tips.

  • I too have been meal planning for years. I have a low tech lined pad where I list each day for two weeks and the time I get home from work so I can plan a meal that is quick or more complicated depending on how much prep time I have. Then I make a shopping list for those meals. I get my recipies from books, magazines or online, print them out or list the source on the pad. I often change my mind or shuffle the days but at least I have the ingredients on hand. I do try to use seasonal ingredients or take advantage of store specials. We have recently retired so I also made a list of meals that I can easily cook in our small camper. When ever we decide to go on a trip I have the shopping list and planning already done.

  • :o)

    I tried to implement a realistic, long-term menu plan system awhile back (inspired, of course, by Pinterest). I failed… miserably. Some weeks, I DO write out a rough “What’s for Dinner?!” outline on a scrap of paper, or scribbled on a white board, but there is minimal consistency. Our ultimate goals, like most people, are to eat healthier AND save money (i.e. not eat out).

    An issue that we have some weeks is that we will plan out Mon, Tues, Wed, Thurs… and then designate Friday for leftovers… but then we either don’t have leftovers… or Friday rolls around and we’re just NOT in the mood for what’s in the fridge. (And we rarely plan out the weekends at all, so we end up either eating junk or eating [junk] out!)

    A BIG stumbling block I had was that I felt like I needed to make all 50+ menu idea cards within about an hour (along with corresponding recipes neatly typed out! LOL!) I took on way too much, became overwhelmed, and shelved the project!

    Your post and the great comments have inspired me to give it a try again!!! I’m going to take baby steps and do ONE WEEK AT A TIME. Make cards for JUST ONE WEEK. Type out recipes/ingredient checklist for JUST ONE WEEK. And then next week, do it again. Hopefully, if I can keep this up, within 2 months I’ll have a nice stash!

  • Great tips Jill! I will give it a go. I find I am always preparing the same things over and over again. Another great app that I have cone across is called “Foodgawker”. It allows you to type in what you have or want and it pops up with pictures of the recipes, click on the picture and you get the recipe to make. It is great because we all eat with our eyes, and this lets us pick the one we want with our eyes first! It has become a regular thing now, I let someone choose the protein and we go and check it out on the app and decide what we will have with it.
    Lots of fun to get everyone involved with planning :)

    Diane

  • When the family was home, I stuck to a basic shoping plan–2 meat meals, 2 poultry, 2 seafood and one meatless meal each week. I would rotate favorites within these categories saving meals that took longer to cook for the weekends because I worked. I would also build in extra meals–cook extra pork chops one night for use in an oriental meal later in the week, have pot roast one night and shred the remainder for barbeque sandwiches later, etc. Every meal included a salad and a separate vegetable.

    Now that I am retired and an empty-nester things are considerably different. The shift was difficult. I often make many-serving dishes and freeze them. Experimentation has been the name of my game for a while. Stuffed peppers, some soups, casseroles, self-marinating bagged entrees, pre-made burgers and meatballs work exceptionally well. It seems like an endless challenge but with all the information available on freezer meals, etc. on the Internet, life in the kitchen is becoming easier.

    • I love the idea of two meat, two poultry, two sea food and one meatless. I was trying to get into themed nights and got into a rut. That seems more flexible! Will try it, thanks!!!!

    • I love the idea of eating a salad every dinner… But every time I go buy salad stuff they seem to go bad either before I get to them, or they dont look appetizing when I pull them out… Any ideas on how you were able to do it? Thanks!

      • Danielle, my family likes salads too. I make a large salad including a variety of cut-up veggies (really moist items like tomatoes are kept separate) and store it in a covered bowl or in a ziplock bag – add a paper towel and it seems to keep several days without spoiling,

  • I have been meal planning for over 20 years.
    I shop on Saturday, prep all of my fruits and slice and dice veggies when I get home. On Sunday I cook for the week or prep meals for the oven or crockpot.

    I have several weekly menus with shopping list recipes. Once you have some menus planned you can just rotate them. This makes meal planning easy.
    No rushing home from work and trying to through something together.
    Meals are on the table within 30 minutes of walking in the door. Also I set my table before I leave for work.

  • As part of my continuing effort to reign in my grocery budget I began making a monthly menu. I base it on the sale flyer from the grocery store and create a chart that includes breakfast, lunch, snack and dinner.

    THe chart is posted on the refrigerator. THis has eliminated the constant calls of “mom-what’s for dinner.”

    I’m excited to try some of the resources you posted!

  • I use a write on monthly calendar and use two lines for each week – one for breakfast, and one for dinner. I try spend some time on a weekend to plan at least two weeks ahead. I grow most of our own food so I take into account what produce we have coming in first, and then I plan from there. I double or triple almost everything I make and then freeze the extra. So many nights during the week I can simply pull something out of the freezer the night before. I also spend about an hour each Sunday chopping and prepping ingredients for the upcoming week’s meals.

    • How do you store all the chopped veg for the week? This is always the most time consuming part of meal prep for me and having ready ahead of time would be such a time saver during the week but I worry the vegetables will loose flavor or nourishment. For instance I have heard somewhere that an onion not only looses nutritional value but develops something bad for you after it’s been cut and sitting but have no idea if this is true (I hope not) but now if I only need half I leave the unused half unpeeled and just make a fresh cut on the open end when I am ready to peel. Anyone have knowledge about this?

  • We used to meal plan, with 11 people eating dinner every night, it was just a must, and I was so organized! Now we’re down to 2 kids and just 4 of us, it’s been an adjustment. I’m in the process of opening a gym and need to find ways to incorporate meal planning so that they can join me for dinner at the gym without the “fast food” being on the menu. I’m still working on this but I think it’s going to be a big necessity, thanks for the reminder :)

  • I have recently started cooking for a week every Sunday.

    Week #1: I smoked a brisket & then divided it into even portions (I think I had 6). We had brisket quesadillas, tacos, regular brisket & Mac & cheese and I don’t remember the other meal but it was all amazingly easy that week.

    Week #2: I smoked a chicken. We had Jillee’s one pan enchiladas, tacos, a chicken casserole & then just left over chicken.

    This week: I did a crock pot chicken. Divided it up into 4 meals & made broth. I ended up with 5 broth bags (of 1 cup each. I was also able to put 3/4 cup into each bag of chicken). We’ve had chicken pot pie, last night we had chicken spaghetti. I’m not sure what we will have tonight, but I’m thinking it may be the enchiladas again.

    This has made it SO easy. Each night I spend a max of 30 minutes in the kitchen cooking. And usually it’s only been 15.

    I know it’s I’m only cooking for my husband and I, but I’m sure this can be adopted for people with kids….. ;-)

    • My husband and I do weekly cooking on Sundays also! After doing this for several years, I honestly don’t know how else we would eat homecooked healthy food for work lunches and dinners every day of the week! It’s so efficient and is a together-activity for us that we really enjoy. If you’re okay with having the same meal 3 times per week, you just choose two lunch meals to make and two dinner meals, it’s awesome! It also helps us to better balance meat-based with vegetarian, chicken with beef, different grains, etc.

      We even invited a friend over once and made 50% more of everything so that she could hang out with us while also preparing for the week; she was amazed at the low cost and ease of doing it.

      • That’s awesome! My husband is an HVAC technician so he is usually out in the field for his lunches. This use to mean an average of $5-7 every day for lunch, depending on what was around.

        What we do for lunches is we go to the deli at the grocery store (Kroger) & get 1 lb each of chicken turkey and ham. We divide it into single servings and freeze them. Then he takes sandwich stuff and some snacks (apples, grapes, Ect…)
        Now, his lunches average $3 & is way healthier than fast food- and doesn’t require a microwave or fridge. He keeps it all in a lunch box & the cold stuff in an ice chest that he keeps water in.

        For my lunches, I do the same type of thing, but I’m not huge on sandwiches. I make home made lunchables.

        I just started the cooking for the week about 3 weeks ago. So far I have mastered cooking one meat. I hope in the next couple of weeks to add a 2nd / 3rd!

  • I agree with Kathy P. My husband and I are empty nesters. it is hard to cook for a family of 5 kids, to 2 adults. We had a “Fend For Yourself”night. With 5kids there was always some activity. So on the evening that was the busiest it was fend. The kids loved it. And what surprised me the most was they actually would eat healthy. ( I had one that thought Fend meant ice cream, NOPE).

    Love your posts Jillee! Thank you much!

  • Hubby and I take turns cooking every two weeks so we both plan our meals. Since he grows so much of our food we work our meals around the garden which can be a bit challenging at times. (Squash again?) But we cook enough for two meals or a total of 4 servings. Since we are retired and usually home for lunch we eat the second serving for lunch or dinner. If it’s soup or a large dish, we’ll eat twice and then freeze in containers for future lunches. It works out so much better to plan ahead although it takes some getting used to. Even though we’ve got this down, I always am looking for ideas to improve it. Thanks for your post.

  • We eat mostly Paleo and I have been struggling with meal planning—especially school lunches. Meal planning is finally working for me since taking the seemingly overwhelming task of planning EVERYTHING out for an entire month—breakfasts, AM snacks, lunches, PM snacks, suppers and desserts. I post my menu each week on my blog, in hopes of inspiring others.

    I’ve tried different methods, but what works best for me is to save and file recipes on my hard drive, print out the ones I will use for the week, put them in page protectors and keep them in a binder. I now have a 3 inch personalized cookbook (binder) full of recipes of what I call ‘keepers’—recipes we’ve tried and everyone liked. I rotate through those recipes and try a few new ones each month.

    I keep a 1 inch binder on the kitchen counter. On the front cover is a copy of my meal plan for the month (an Excel spreadsheet). I just need to look at my binder when I wake up so I know what I’m making the kids for breakfast and what to pack in their lunch boxes. Inside are all the recipes I will need that month, separated in 4 sections (for each week). It works for me!

  • I made a list of our favorite meals, noting the source of the recipe (Pinterest, my recipe book, allrecipes.com, etc.), printed it out on card stock, and put it in a plastic sleeve. Then, when it’s time to plan the menu for the next two weeks, I pull out that list and have each person in the family (using a dry erase marker) check three or four meals they’d like to have in the next two weeks. I make my grocery list based on that and it eliminates my being responsible for deciding on every meal.

  • I have a menu board I made (Pinterest inspired of course) that I use. It has main dishes on laminated cards, including a leftovers card and a new recipe card. If the new recipe gets the family thumbs up, it gets its own card to add to the rotation! I really like the tips you share here Jillee! :-)

    • What a great idea!! I’ve seen those types of menu boards, but they always sound so complicated. You make it sound pretty simple and do-able, though! I might have to give this a try. Now to find space for it in my teeny-tiny student apartment… haha

  • I love this plan. I have been planning my meals for years. I have four children living with me and I ask them to choose from my “List of Acceptable Meals” every week, so that I can plan next weeks menu. This cuts my shopping down to one grocery trip per week. We have “Clean Out The Refrigerator Friday” to use up all our leftovers in a fun, restaurant style manner. Good point about relying on the crockpot for meals on busy days!

  • Good topic. I need as much help as possible with this. I am 56, single and an empty nester. I used to like to cook, but now I have no desire to cook anything. I work evenings, and usually fix something for lunch and then take leftovers for lunch at work. I will check out some of those websites, and will eagerly read ideas posted by blog followers. Thanks :)

    • @KathyP. I’m in your same boat, but I love to cook so I cook a couple of times a week and eat leftovers. I love to roast a large round roast rare, then slice for sandwiches. Now that I am retired, this still works for me since I need the time for my favorite hobby, quilting.

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